Jamie Varner Returns to Zuffa; In For Evan Dunham vs. Edson Barboza at UFC 146

WEC lightweight

Jamie Varner

Lightweights will battle on preliminary card in Las Vegas

Another change hit the UFC 146 card overnight, but this time it wasn’t the all-heavyweight main card that was affected.

Evan Dunham has been forced out of his lightweight fight against Edson Barboza with an undisclosed injury. Stepping in to his slot on the preliminary card will be Jamie Varner, the former WEC lightweight champion.

UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Mir takes place May 26 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The main card is a first in UFC history – five heavyweight bouts, including a main event heavyweight title fight between champion Junior dos Santos and former champ Frank Mir.

Varner (19-6-1, 2 NC, 1-1 UFC) will fight in the UFC for the first time since a UFC 68 victory over Jason Gilliam in March 2007. After that submission win, Varner moved over to the Zuffa-owned WEC, where he beat Rob McCullough in his second fight with the promotion for the lightweight title. He defended the belt against Marcus Hicks, and then in a controversial split decision against Donald Cerrone in one of 2009’s best fights. Injuries suffered in that fight kept him out for nearly a year, and Ben Henderson was the interim champ when he returned.

But he lost that title unification bout, had a split draw against Kamal Shalorus (Shalorus lost a point for groin shots) and dropped two more to Cerrone and Shane Roller, the latter coming on the WEC’s final card. Varner’s contract was not picked up by the UFC in the two promotions’ merger.

But outside the Zuffa banner, Varner has gone 3-1 with three first-round stoppages. His only loss came by unanimous decision to Dakota Cochrane, a recent hopeful for “The Ultimate Fighter LIVE” who trains in Omaha, Neb., with Jake Ellenberger. Varner has a 90-second submission win over Tyler Combs, a 69-second knockout of Nate Jolly and a 30-second win over Drew Fickett. His last four fights, though, have come at welterweight and catch weights. His drop back to lightweight will be his first time there since the loss to Roller in December 2010. Since his Zuffa release, Varner has been training at AMA Fight Club in New Jersey, home base of Jim Miller, who fights in the UFC on Fox main event Saturday.

Barboza (10-0, 4-0 UFC) will look to remain unbeaten – and will look to keep his Fight of the Night streak rolling. The Brazilian has won three straight Fight of the Night bonuses, and in his last time out, at UFC 142 in Brazil, he doubled up with a Knockout of the Night win over Terry Etim with a rare spinning wheel kick. The double bonus gave Barboza four fight-night bonus awards in four UFC bouts.

Barboza debuted in the UFC in November 2010 and picked up a TKO win over Mike Lullo after battering the fellow newcomer with leg kicks throughout the fight. He followed that up with a unanimous decision Fight of the Night win over Anthony Njokuani and a Fight of the Night split decision over Ross Pearson before his double bonus in January.

Dunham (13-2, 6-2 UFC) was looking to build on a TKO win over Nik Lentz at the January UFC on Fox card in Chicago, in which he badly bloodied his opponent and forced a doctor’s stoppage after two rounds. That win was his second straight after suffering back-to-back losses – the first two losses of his career.

The Barboza-Varner fight, though not officially announced by the UFC, is likely to take place on the FX-broadcast prelims, joining Diego Brandao-Darren Elkins, Jason Miller-C.B. Dollaway and Jacob Volkmann-Paul Sass.